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Houston Rockets: 5 Stretch Run Storylines to Watch

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Houston Rockets: 5 Stretch Run Storylines to Watch
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There is plenty of legroom on the Rockets bench these days.

If Kevin McHale had his druthers, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin would crowd the pine and take the court for 30-plus minutes as his team squares off tonight against the defending champion Mavericks for the second time in four days.

Martin remains sidelined with a shoulder tear, and Lowry said Monday he hoped to return before the end of the season from a bacterial infection, but could not guarantee he will.

The good news, he said: “I’ll be healthy at some point.”

That quote does not suggest an imminent return. Doctors will not re-evaluate Lowry until April 7, when his antibiotic cycle expires. Even if he is cleared then to resume normal basketball activity, he will need some time to rehabilitate the groin muscle he strained March 7 in Toronto.

The team’s best player appeared at Monday’s shootaround with an IV line in one arm and a basketball in the other, still not close to running a pick-and-roll or Houston’s offense in the clutch.

A postseason push without a starting backcourt that averages 33 points, 7.6 rebounds and 10 assists will require indomitable play from a cast that wins more than it loses sans a superstar ballast. While LeBron James can sleepwalk his way to the above numbers in one game, what Martin and Lowry add to the Rockets’ drink takes the recipe from sketchy to saccharine.

GM Daryl Morey knows he still needs to deliver the spice that will elevate this squad from eighth seed pursuer to title hopeful.

McHale has infected the shorthanded roster with his herbaceous attitude. If he seemed to lose some of the locker room during a February swoon, he has clearly won the trust of the cogs tasked with keeping the Rockets afloat in a playoff pursuit while Lowry and Martin recuperate from perplexing ailments.

It wasn’t quite the Escape from Alcatraz or classic Houdini, but Houston avoided a devastating home loss to Sacramento on Monday night, erasing multiple double-figure deficits to triumph 113-106 in overtime.

When DeMarcus Cousins was not going ballistic in a primal 38-point showing, Marcus Thornton was peppering the listless, confounded Rockets with long-range hits. McHale’s bunch came to life when it mattered and rode Patrick Patterson’s career best 24-point outing to a critical win.

The coaches and fans had to feel a bit nauseous when Marcus Camby and Goran Dragic limped off the court with injuries: torn left wrist ligaments for the center and a sprained left ankle for the point guard. Both plan to suit up tonight in Dallas.

Welcome to a Western Conference stretch run that will make those Girls Gone Wild videos seem pliant by comparison.

Looking to experience a rush without the hazards and terrors of bungee jumping or a skydiving excursion? Log on to NBA.com and watch the West standings from four through eight change more often than Kenny Rogers’ face or a John Kerry political stance.

With the Rockets hoping to end a two-year playoff drought, here are five storylines to watch as April beckons.

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